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Stop new 30-year plan to dump dredge matter in Long Island Sound

Views of the Long Island Sound from Morgan

Views of the Long Island Sound from Morgan Park in Glen Cove. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

The news keeps getting worse when it comes to an Army Corps of Engineers plan to dump dredge spoils into Long Island Sound.

Now the Environmental Protection Agency has approved three more decades of continued dumping at two sites in the Sound — one north of Lloyd Neck in Huntington, the other north of Shoreham near New Haven, Connecticut. The expected volume of 53 million cubic yards, most of it dredged from Connecticut harbors and waterways, would fill more than 14 large football stadiums.

Worse, the EPA will OK a third location this fall for another 22.6 million cubic yards it says cannot be handled by the other two sites; this third spot is in the eastern end of the Sound, north and east of Orient Point, an area the federal government itself has identified as an essential fish habitat.

If this all sounds crazy, that’s because it is.

Long Island Sound, so important to the region for both recreation and commerce, has been degraded for years. But progress toward restoring it has been made recently, mostly through improved sewage treatment in New York and Connecticut. Dolphins and whales have been spotted in the Sound and bait fish are more plentiful. But there’s so much more to do. That’s what makes these new developments so disappointing.

Dredging must take place in Connecticut for marine traffic to move smoothly and safely. But those spoils can contain toxic materials such as cadmium, mercury, lead, copper and pesticides. Even the material that is clean consumes oxygen, blocks sunlight, and kills organisms on the Sound’s floor. Among those justifiably opposing the plans are environmentalists, local officials, and New York’s Department of State and Department of Environmental Conservation.

The EPA’s approval requires the Corps to form a committee that would work on reducing the dumping by finding ways to reuse the sludge. But that’s precisely what the EPA and Army Corps promised to do a decade ago. Back then, the Army Corps wanted to extend expiring permits for two of the dumping sites, but Gov. George Pataki blocked that plan, and the EPA, Army Corps, New York and Connecticut agreed that the dumping could continue while the Corps drafted a new plan for alternatives to dumping in Long Island Sound. But this new plan contains no such alternatives, citing them as too costly, when such ideas — like using the sludge to restore wetlands and cap landfills — already are being employed elsewhere. At the very least, officials from New York and Connecticut will be represented on this committee. But we remain skeptical that this will lead to changes when the agencies that promised to take such actions 10 years ago did not.

And 30 years is far too long. The Army Corps should be on a 10-year timetable to phase out the dumping, as suggested by Rep. Lee Zeldin. A 10 percent reduction per year over those 10 years would do it. Dredged material that is clean could be used to fortify coastal areas at risk for sea-level rise, as suggested by Assemb. Steven Englebright. Both are sensible ideas.

New York State is threatening to sue to stop the dumping, saying Long Island Sound should not be a waste-disposal site. We agree. If legal action is needed to derail this plan and force the EPA and Army Corps to commit to concrete plans for phasing out the dumping, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo should direct the state to proceed. Too much progress has been made in restoring Long Island Sound to muck it up again. — The editorial board